No end in sight

I'm writing this column on Thursday, as Catalans vote for their next government in an election called for by Mariano Rajoy last month. In normal circumstances, it would be a tricky piece to write, because I know that these words will be published tomorrow, when the result is known; yet I must write them today, while the outcome is still in the future.

We're not living in normal circumstances, though - we're living in Spain at the close of 2017. I can therefore say with certainty that whether the majority of Catalans voted for anti or pro-independence parties yesterday, or whether the election eventually results in a hung parliament, there is no end in sight to the Catalonia debacle.

At the time of writing, polls indicate that the vote is evenly split between pro and anti-independence parties and that both sides will struggle to gain a parliamentary majority if victorious. In other words, the Catalonia saga is about to reach new heights of complexity and, potentially, animosity.

As a result, the Bank of Spain is erring on the side of caution in its analysis of the Spanish economy's medium-term future. According to its latest predictions, which were released a few days before yesterday's election, Spain's GDP growth next year will be 2.4%, down from an original forecast of 2.5%; the bank also lowered its projection or 2019, from 2.2% to 2.1%. These slight downward adjustments were made because of uncertainty surrounding the Catalonia situation.

Even if secessionist parties form a government after yesterday's vote, they will still disagree on how to proceed in talks with Madrid. Esquerra, the largest pro-independence party, favours dropping the campaign for outright independence and negotiating with Rajoy instead. The anarchist-communist party CUP, meanwhile, continues to support a full split from Spain.

Pro-independence feeling in Catalonia has undoubtedly been increased by Rajoy's ham-fisted attempts to quash the secessionist project since October 1st: it will not simply disappear if anti-independence parties form an administration following yesterday's election. But that's assuming they even get that far, which is by no means a given.

Centrist newcomer Ciudadanos looks set to become the strongest anti-secession force in Catalonia, yet it requires the backing of other parties to lead the region's next government. It can forget the support of the leftist Catalunya en Comú Podem, a party that's ambivalent about independence but steadfastly anti-Ciudadanos. This may make kingmakers of the region's Socialists, who are anti-independence but have their differences with Ciudadanos.

So whichever way yesterday's vote plays out, it looks like we're in for a miniature version of the Spanish general election in December 2015, which left Spain without a government for ten months. Indeed, the farce that was Spanish politics last year showed us that, in present day Spain, elections create more problems than they solve.